It may be small in size, but Belgium is home to 44 beer companies and a staggering 180 breweries. In fact, Belgians have been in the business of brewing since the 1100s, when French and Flemish abbeys sold beers to raise funds and Belgium wasn’t even a country yet. With so many brews to choose from, it can be difficult to figure out which one to order—so we’ve listed out our favorites and what makes each one unique.
While it’s the most well-known type of Belgian beer, the term “Trappist” refers to where the beer was made, not its style. Trappist beers must be brewed in a monastery where the monks participate in its production, and all profits from the beer must be used to support the monastery and its programs. Six of the ten Trappist breweries in the world are in Belgium. Trappist is a protected designation, but the term “abbey” can be used to describe anything from beer brewed in a non-Trappist monastery to a beer with a monastic-themed branding.
Make sure to try: Chimay
A classic Abbey beer, brown-hued dubbels were first brewed in the 19th century at a Trappist monastery. Today, the name is used to refer to many stronger brown beers with an alcohol content between six and eight percent.
Make sure to try: Westmalle
Tripels are lighter in color but stronger than dubbels, with an alcohol content that hovers around nine percent.
Make sure to try: St. Bernadus Tripel
Ales can be amber, blonde, golden or brown, with the lighter varieties resembling a less bitter version of a traditional English pale ale. Duvel is a popular Belgian ale in the blonde style. Scotch ales are sweet and heavy-bodied. In the Low Countries, the term “Belgian strong ale” usually refers to tripels and dubbels with an alcohol content above 7%, but is not widely used by Belgian breweries.
Make sure to try: Duvel
Champagne beers are created similarly to their namesake sparkling wine—they are fermented twice and then stored for several months, creating smaller and softer bubbles.
Make sure to try: Bosteels Deus
Cider-like and sometimes sour, lambics are uniquely fermented by exposure to wild yeasts native to the Zenne valley area near Brussels.
Make sure to try: Lindemans Kriek
Originally brewed as refreshments for farmworkers in the French-speaking region of Wallonia, saisons are pale in color and traditionally low-alcohol—but many modern versions feature a higher alcohol-by-volume (ABV) percentage.
Make sure to try: Fantome
White or wheat beer
Wheat beers have been around since the Middle Ages and were originally brewed in Flanders. These sweeter, lighter beers are made with a mixture of wheat and barley, then flavored with a mixture of herbs that often includes coriander and orange peel.
Make sure to try: Leffe blonde
Have you tried one of these Belgian brews? Which is your favorite? You can sample these and more on our tour, Food & Wine: Beers of Belgium & Germany.